Major Question Being Asked: How Did Israel Not Know?

The intelligence failure will be examined for years to come
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 8, 2023 9:14 AM CDT
Major Question Being Asked: How Did Israel Not Know?
Palestinians wave their national flag and celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis southern Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.   (AP Photo/Yousef Masoud)

As war unfolds in the Middle East following the unprecedented surprise attack on Israel by Hamas militants, one question is being asked repeatedly: How did Israeli intelligence—and that of its Western allies—have no idea this was coming? Some takes, which in many cases assume the form of further unanswered questions:

  • At CNN, Joshua Berlinger gives historical context: "It has been more than 17 years since an Israeli soldier was taken as a prisoner of war in an assault on Israeli territory. And Israel has not seen this kind of infiltration of military bases, towns and kibbutzim since town-by-town fighting in the 1948 war of independence. How could a terror group from one of the world's poorest enclaves manage to launch such a devastating attack?"
  • At Politico, Jamie Dettmer cites reports that more than 2,200 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza during the initial hours of the attack; planning is thought to have taken months or even years. "Hamas would have used its vast network of tunnels that link the enclave to Egypt, but how did it smuggle in the materials needed for such a huge attack without Israel catching wind of the traffic? And how did Israeli intelligence fail to notice Hamas was making and assembling thousands of home-grown Qassam rockets?"

  • Writing for the Times of Israel, Jacob Dallal suspects "the disunity in Israel created by the legislative overhaul weakened Israel's deterrence and likely played a role in Hamas' calculation to attack. Separately, talks of peace with Saudi Arabia may also have put pressure on Hamas and the axis of evil led by Iran to launch war in an effort to torpedo normalization that would have left them isolated in the Arab and Muslim world." (A rep for Hamas told the BBC Iran provided support for the attack.)
  • At the Wall Street Journal, Dion Nissenbaum writes that "recent Israeli intelligence assessments of Hamas" got it wrong, believing "the militant group had shifted its focus to trying to stoke violence in the West Bank and that it was looking to avoid launching major attacks from Gaza in an effort to avoid the kinds of punishing Israeli military responses that have devastated the isolated area in the past."
  • Nissenbaum spoke with retired Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, who said, "I'm confident we [the US] had no intel." At the Atlantic, Gal Beckerman digs into that line of thinking, pointing out that just 9 days ago, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, "The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades. ... Iran's nuclear-weapons program, the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. But the amount of time I have to spend on crisis and conflict in the Middle East today, compared to any of my predecessors going back to 9/11, is significantly reduced."
(More Israel stories.)

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